Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
For 1981, Japan’s newest and most innovative energy crisis car was unquestionably the Daihatsu Charade, a five door hatchback that proved exceptionally economical.
The diminutive Charade was the star performer among petrol-engined vehicles in the 1980 Australian Total Oil Economy Run, achieving a staggering 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres over the 1600 km course, which included mountainous conditions and had to be negotiated at high average speeds that required some energetic driving, especially by crews of the smaller cars.
It shouldn’t have come a huge surprise, the Charade being designed from the ground up to ensure exceptional fuel economy.
In fact, Daihatsu employed extensive computer research when adopting the unconventional 993cc three-cylinder engine for fitment to the Charade – and they certainly got it right – so much so that the engine offered an astonishing 10 percent better power output and 15 percent better fuel economy than a four cylinder engine of similar capacity.
The more compact size also enabled the engine to be mounted transversely in line with a five speed gearbox. Weight was kept to a minimum, it weighing in at a very modest 600kg.
The attention to detail allowed the Charade to set new standards in the mini car class, it competing well above its station.
Acceleration was not one of the greater points, the Charade taking 19.5 seconds to reach 100 km/h from standstill, although it did have a top speed of 140km/h, allowing it to maintain highway cruising speeds without too much effort.
But it was in the city where the Charade shone, the tight turning circle and relative comfort making it a popular option as a new car at a price point normally reserved for second hand vehicles. Passenger room was limited in the rear, while luggage space was also rather small. There were three models, the basic sedan, the XO and the top of the line XTE.
All came equipped with a laminated windscreen, front disc brakes, steel belted radial ply tyres, childproof rear door locks, reclining front seats, rear mud flaps and a radio. The XTE also came with a tachometer, rear window wiper and washer, a clock, cloth upholstery and an AM/FM radio. Owners could further option their cars with air-conditioning.
The clever design, combined with then modern mass-production manufacturing facilities that allowed Daihatsu to market the Charade at a very competitive price. So efficient was the production line that one rolled out of the factory every 38 seconds, allowing a combined output of some 10,000 cars per month.
At the time, the Charade was the least expensive “freely available” sedan in Australia, although availability was severely restricted by the import quota’s of the day. But after waxing lyrical over the little Daihatsu, it was not without its foibles. Excessive understeer and a pronounced lurching motion when driven quickly through corners tarnished the drivability of the car, and when combined with the harsh and irritating engine vibration and flimsiness of the build quality, many soon forgot the cheap price.